If there has been a victim of the Reece Oxford celebration, it’s Dimitri Payet. Maybe in time - and going by historical precedent - Oxford will become a victim of that himself, but the amount of praise for the young midfielder, although worthy, has come at the expense of his new French teammate.
Payet was absolutely outstanding at The Emirates. Really, that was one of the finest debut performances from an incoming foreign player that I can remember: everything that Payet did was measured and controlled and he made a mockery of the accepted truism that, without prior Premier League experience, a new signing will always need time to adjust to the speed of the English game.
The highlight of his match was probably his well-weighted delivery for Cheik Kouyate’s goal. While schadenfreude has dictated that Petr Cech has been front and centre of that incident, it owed far more to Payet’s teasing crossing than it did goalkeeping ineptitude. Yes, Cech probably should have done better and his decision to come for the ball was ultimately a poor one, but it was the quality of the free-kick which forced him into his hesitation in the first place and there are very few defences in world football which wouldn’t have been similarly troubled.
A great moment, for sure.
Payet’s general passing was also a highlight, though. When assessing a creative player’s performance, the temptation is always to look only at his final-third output and to consider what chances he was able to create. That may be pertinent, but in this instance it would be slightly reductive - Payet did not cut the Arsenal back-line to ribbons, but his handling of the game’s temperament was generally outstanding.
West Ham - as they were entitled to be - were very compact in North London and once they had a lead they were more than content to collapse behind the ball and deny Arsenal central space. That’s really a pick your poison situation because, in most instances, that approach will lead to a side being starved of the ball and facing wave-after-wave of attacking pressure from their opponent. West Ham’s walls did creak a bit during that second-half, but it was noticeable that as and when they did break out, their retention of possession was very good.
And Payet was at the heart of it.
The above (via Squawka) shows his passing in the second-half.
There’s nothing dramatic within that graphic and, on first glance, it’s not particularly impressive. What’s apparent, however, is how economic his use of the ball was. When he received possession in that second period, it was typically in areas in which West Ham were badly outnumbered and yet, to his credit, he rarely turned the ball over or played long, panicked passes into low-percentage areas.
It’s might be unspectacular, but it’s still class. When given the opportunity, Payet moved the ball up the field really smartly and that was as much a part of securing the win as any of the defensive rigidity or organsiation.
And…one of his final touches frames his performance neatly.
With West Ham breaking into Arsenal’s last-third right at the end of the game, Payet skipped round a covering defender - Monreal if memory serves me - and had a chance to run in on-goal. It was 2-0, time was expiring and he could have been forgiven, in a moment of self-indulgence, for trying to add a third.
He didn’t. He turned out of the box, headed for the corner-flag, and chewed the clock.
Unselfish; team first; admirable attitude etc.
It was the perfect way to round off such an admirably well-controlled display.
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